by Pete Janny, Sports Editor
Manhattan College cross country has returned to action and hopefully to stay. With last season’s brief cameo in the spring now in the rearview mirror, the cross country team is gradually settling back into the comforts of the fall season known for the foliage and the cozy temperatures it brings.
The calendar for the men’s and women’s cross country teams this fall features a traditional slate of meets after only getting two chances to compete in the spring. The convenient part is that almost all their races occur at popular courses in the area, highlighted by the Van Cortlandt Park Trail, which plays host to the upcoming Fordham Fiasco on Sept. 11 and the Metropolitan Championships on Oct. 8. Those two races represent half of the teams’ meets leading up to the MAAC Championships on Oct. 30 in Orlando, Fla. when conference bragging rights are on the line.
Kerri Gallagher, head coach and recently appointed director of cross country, feels a sense of rebirth around the program these days after enduring constant uncertainty last year.
“I’m excited to get back to normal training and racing… With all the uncertainty last year, we had to be very flexible and in some areas take the pressure off,” Gallagher said. “I think now the team is ready to put some of that pressure back on and go after some big goals.”
It feels like a new era with Matt Centrowitz no longer in the fold. Centrowitz and Gallagher have been around each other for a while, including a coaching stint for American University’s cross country program for five years before coming to Riverdale. Gallagher feels bittersweet about the circumstances of replacing one of her mentors but feels the writing was on the wall with Centrowitz turning 67 in January.
“The way we both looked at it, he is at the end of his coaching career and I’m at the beginning of mine,” Gallagher said. “
Without knowing exactly how long we would work together at Manhattan, we both knew, in the long run, we were preparing for the next step. I’m excited for him as he moves onto new ventures outside of college coaching.”
Potential trips to the NCAA NE Regional Championships and the IC4A/ECAC Championships at the end of the season loom large for Manhattan. But first, the Jaspers need to qualify for them. In 2019, the last time each of those meets was held, both Manhattan teams failed to earn a spot but were still represented by individual runners from the school. For that reason, the Jaspers are excited to get the chance to fine-tune their craft at some of the earlier meets like the Ford- ham Fiasco and Metropolitan Championships.
“It feels good to get back out there,” senior runner Marc Carrera said. “I think the best thing about those types of meets is we get to learn about ourselves and see what we’re working with this year. We have a lot of new guys who have a chance to make this team better.”
Of the returning core, Carrera and Andria Scaglione have been among the top performers for the Jaspers over the past few seasons. Their bona fides at the collegiate level helps maintain a veteran presence for a roster that added seven freshmen between both teams. The cascade effect of passing down certain rituals and mores from one class to the next is a process both Scaglione and Carrera are familiar with and are eager to be crucial links to.
“We have a cool melting pot of dedicated guys,” Carrera said. “While we’re interested in them they’re also interested in us. It’s great to have them come in to get to know some things about us or have questions to ask because that builds a foundation for us.”
“I also still look up to the seniors so I would hope the freshmen look up to me,” Scaglione said. “It’s like a domino effect.”
Manhattan Cross Country’s latest recruiting class is cut between four freshmen on the men’s team and three for the women. Although the MAAC preseason picks tabbed the men fifth and the women seventh this season, those predictions don’t usually reflect the projections of freshmen who end up surpassing expectations as rookies. It remains to be seen if Gallagher has found a few neophytes who can contribute right away to prove detractors wrong.
Back for a fifth year, Pelle Nogueira has been a com- mon fixture throughout the years atop the leaderboard for the men’s team. Having the All-MAAC honoree from last spring around for another year is paramount for many reasons, because of what his presence means for the younger runners and, most excitingly, for the team’s goals this season.
As one of the more expe- rienced runners, Carrera has learned to find motivation through teammates such as Nogueira. They push each oth- er to new heights every day.
“I think collectively as a team we all share those individual goals of beating our previous times,” Carrera said. “We always want to beat ourselves from yesterday.”
On Sept. 4, the Jaspers made their fall debut at the Marist Opener which takes place at the Vassar Farm in Poughkeepsie, New York. The event was a measuring stick for the Jasper runners coming out of the summer break, which naturally led to mixed results. The men and women finished fourth and fifth respectively out of six teams on both sides.
Scaglione was the standout performer for the Manhattan women, finishing in sixth place overall with a time of 18:53.79 to salvage fifth place for the team in the 5K competition.
“Just having competitors to feed off once again honestly felt really good,” Scaglione said. “I’m trying not to worry too much about time because when you focus on which place the time will come with it.”
Carrera opened his senior campaign earning 19th place overall in the 6K as well as a third-place among the Manhattan men. Nogueira clocked in at a team-best 19:05.66 while senior Michael Hennelly took second for the Jaspers at 19:31.14. They registered fifth and 14th place finishes respectively.
At the Fordham Fiasco, runners were forced to traverse the hills of the VCP course; challenge Manhattan runners have subjected themselves to many times with it being their home training ground. Manhattan was joined by several teams including eponymous rival Fordham University.
“Van Cortlandt is the epitome of cross country and has everything a good cross country course would have,” Scaglione said.
As a team, Manhattan had their most impressive performance at the Fordham Fiasco with the men placing second behind St. Joseph’s University out of 11 teams. In the 8K event, Nogueria garnered first place overall for the first time in his collegiate career with a mark of 26:17.03. The time was a new personal best for Nogueria at VCP by 21 seconds. Hennelly, who came in fourth at 26:54.42, secured his own personal re- cord at the course by less than a second. Carrera was the third and final male runner from Manhattan to set a new individual bar for himself at VCP, finishing ninth at 27:28.22.
On the women’s side, the second-place team finish for Manhattan in the 5K was head-ed by Scaglione, who extended her streak to 10 meets as the top performer for her team in as many tries in her collegiate career. Rory Graham was second for Manhattan in her season debut while Nicola Scaglione rounded out the top three.